Friday, November 18, 2016

Racism & Xenophobia Most Certainly on the Rise in the United States

I had to get off from my Facebook account for a while just now, because it was just a bit too depressing.


Because at least from my perspective, Americans are getting ever more extreme with the complete embrace of all of their prejudices. 

More than ever, at a time when we should really be examining ourselves after an election that featured two of the worst presidential candidates in history, we are pointing the finger of blame at everyone but ourselves, allowing the divisiveness that this election represented - all of the mudslinging and posturing and finger pointing - grow even more extreme now that the election is over, if that is even possible. 

Truth is, it is worse now.

Let's face it: Donald Trump has made us the laughing stock of the entire world. It cast the enormity of the divisive Brexit vote in our shadow. 

Well, we always want things to be bigger in the United States, don't we? So, why not a reminder that our mistakes have generally been larger than those committed by other countries, as well?

And in typical fashion, let's do it loudly, brashly, and proudly!

Indeed, let's do it while waving the red, white, and blue, just in case people forgot who we were for a second there!

Yes, the prejudices for Americans now seems to extend to just about everything, in just about every way. No longer are we even trying to hide it, even when we really know better, or at least, should know better (and they amount to the same thing).

I have said for quite some time that I personally believe that the very worst and most damaging prejudice that seemingly a majority of Americans have - regardless of race or sex or religious denomination or any damn thing - is this perception of ourselves that we are, far and away, the greatest country in the world. Most Americans interpret that to mean that we have nothing to learn from the world outside of our sacred national borders. No, let's face it, it goes beyond that. If we are honest with ourselves, most Americans interpret that to mean that nothing outside of these sacred national borders is worth paying attention to.

And let's be clear: how could we generally think otherwise? We spend more money on the military than on anything else, and it is not even close. From there, it is not a giant leap to hyping the cause for wars up, much like we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion - and let me go ahead and predict that we will be seeing more wars (yes, wars in the plural) like that in the near future. Any reasonably objective person that gave that situation any serious thought would remember that Saddam's Iraq was decimated in a matter of weeks a little over a decade before, and had been subjected to weapons inspections and no fly zones ever since. So, to prop this country up and make them sound like the new superpower, with 45 minute response time and a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that served as an immediate threat not only to world peace, but to American security in particular, was on the surface, simply ridiculous.

A majority of Americans believed it, though. In fact, a majority of Americans believed that Saddam was in on the 9/11 attacks, and this continued to be the case even when, to a man, every prominent member of the Bush administration denied any such link!

Even more depressing news came just a couple of years ago, when a majority of millennials said that they would approve the whole Iraq invasion and the long quagmire that followed even knowing then what we know now about it!

Yes, Americans get a bad rap throughout the world because of this kind of arrogance mixed with ignorance.

But instead of serious introspection, we simply close ourselves off more and more. We elect leaders who do not challenge us to think more, but reinforce our prejudices, while simultaneously serving their corporate masters to keep our pay rates steadily low and strip Americans workers of their benefits, which, unbeknownst to many Americans, already ranks on the lower end within the industrialized world. This fact is not well-known and, when someone does state it, is generally not accepted, because we Americans have been so conditioned to believe that we are special, that we are unique, that we are...well, better than the rest.

Is it really that surprising, when this notion of some kind of notions of superiority has always bled through in our history? We called ourselves the "shining city on the hill" in the early days of the colonial period, while we were wiping out the native people of New England, and this exact same sentiment was echoed by Ronald Reagan, who dismissed the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire." Indeed, the USSR was a flawed nation to be sure, but it was a nation of almost 300 million people. A nation with problems, yes, but also accomplishments. A nation that was not inherently evil, but which was struggling to produce the best nation possible, much like we were. Much like we all were, and still are right to this day.

Instead of thinking of them as people, though, it is much easier to view them as the enemy. To dehumanize them, to see them as rivals worthy of being crushed under our heels. We rejoiced in their bankruptcy and despair, and patted ourselves on the back for winning the Cold War while watching that nation fall to chaos. Not surprisingly, they got a tyrant before too long, and suddenly, we Americans are watching in alarm as this guy has a chip on his shoulder against the United States, and is challenging us once again - with the approval of Mikhail Gorbachev, the same guy who initially brought the notions of "glastnost" and "perestroika" that helped to accelerate the end of the Cold War and a general detente.

And what an amazing irony that the Democrats are, at least in part, blaming the Russians for rigging the 2016 election? If there was any proof necessary that the Democrats had turned into a doctrine of Republican lite, then this was it. Yes, the big, bad, Russians did it! They are responsible! That guy Trump is too close to them! We need someone to stand up to them, someone like Hillary Clinton! As if we needed further proof that much of our political thinking is antiquated and counterproductive!

Yet, that is relatively light stuff, compared to what we have now, which I heard referred to (I forget where, unfortunately, but it was on Canada's Q radio program, I am pretty sure) as "Fascism lite."

Indeed, that is the term that seems best to describe what is going on right now in these supposedly United States. We were warned that a Trump victory would be a victory of fascism. This guy seemed to emulate, and at times even to quote, Mussolini! That he was a little too comfortable expressing racist, sexist, and generally xenophobic viewpoints. We were told all of this but, collectively, we allowed him to be elected president.

Granted, Hillary won the popular vote, although she represented some terrible things and ideas, as well. She unashamedly took huge sums from the very same corporate criminals that she claimed she would get tough on. Always, the Clintons seemed to give the message that they were, and will always remain, above the law.

But it is fitting, in a way, is it not? After all, this ultimate political couple kept reinforcing that same national prejudice, that we are the greatest country in the world, that we are special and unique, and that, generally, we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world, and that, moreover, they should be learning from our example!

Oh, I know that is not what they are saying directly. But when you hear that message reinforced, over and over and over again, the message is definitely received. All of our political leaders, including the Reagans and the Bushes and the Clintons and the Obamas, all of them continually express the sentiment that this is the "greatest country in the world." We make our children recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag before they begin every school day, and the only question that we ever collectively seem to ask about it is whether or not it should include the words "Under God." We see the American flag flying everywhere, and we see flags so big, that they fill up an entire football field during the playing national anthem prior to the pro games being played. Americans of numerous political persuasions get angry when some professional athletes protest during the singing of the anthem by refusing to stand, or by raising their first. They are not nearly so bothered by other issues that undermine the country, such as racism, such as the growing gap between rich and poor, by the staggering levels of corruption in the marbled hallways in both the political and corporate chambers of this land.

All of this is part of one package, and it is the same one that we have been sold now for going on decades. And it has made our nation infinitely worse, and frankly, stupider and stupider over the course of time.

What is both amazing and very alarming is that the standards keep getting lower and lower. For proof of that, look who we just elected to the highest office. That is exhibit A, but let us also take a look at exhibit B, which is the other candidate who could have gotten in, and who nonetheless won the popular vote.

Both of them were alarmingly flawed candidates. One could not stop himself from saying and tweeting the stupidest, most mean-spirited things. The other could not stop herself from taking obscene amounts of money from equally obscene sources, particularly the Wall Street firms that wanted her coronation in the first place. He got rowdier and rowdier, and his success grew with every obnoxious statement and action and tweet. She, in the meantime, was such a weak candidate that she had to resort to cheating in order to secure her nomination. Only now are some Democrats (and really, only just a few of them) now admitting that maybe it was not such a good idea to rig the election to make sure that she received the nomination. Many viewed her as overly robotic and transparently scripted and unnatural. The alternative was someone who clearly was not overly scripted, but incredibly moronic. Frankly, both of them were poor choices. I could not get past the question of how in a country of well over 300 million people, these were the two final choices to represent the nation in the highest office. That question bothered me throughout, and it still bothers me. Probably will bother me for the rest of my life, as we never saw anything quite like it. And I surely am not alone to shudder to think about elections in the future, because things always seem to be getting worse, not better, in our broken political system.

And we wonder why the nation seems to be going in the wrong direction, and where so many things seem to be failing and collapsing in on us?

With the growing success of the Trump campaign that led, ultimately, to his stunning election victory, we now have seen the most fierce release of ridiculous nonsense and utter stupidity. That, more than a single man being elected, is what has made us the laughing stock of the entire world. And what is worse, is that people are doing these things in typical American fashion, which is to say, loudly and proudly!

Enter the growing comfort with which many people - mostly whites, admittedly - are expressing their prejudices. And the irony (some might suggest the tragedy) of it is that many of these people felt that they were doing the most patriotic thing imaginable by voting for someone like Trump. In their eyes, he would turn back the clock (as if we even could do that, even if we wanted to) and make America great again. I remember visiting my son's new school in suburban northern New Jersey and, afterward, running into a group of parents of my son's school mates) who were talking admiringly about the Trump rallies that they had attended. They were daring some of the protesters that this entire campaign was famous for to come to a Trump rally, and suggesting that they would not last five minutes there. I was inclined to believe them. The fact that this was a fascist sentiment that, quite frankly, was decidedly not good for the country, and would not "Make America Great Again," apparently never crossed their minds. Yet, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they believed they were doing the right thing, that they were merely expressing their patriotism.

Now, I believe myself to be very patriotic, although my brand of patriotism is not the kind that seems to be what passes for patriotism for many, if not most, Americans these days. No, these days, the idea of patriotism that many people have is to make sure that they wave the flag on their front steps, and to put a bumper sticker of that flag on the rear of their car or, failing that, to place some kind of other popular sentiment showing this brand of patriotism. Perhaps one with the flag and the words, "God Bless America!" Or perhaps "America First." Or, during war time, to get one of those yellow ribbons showing support for our troops, even if the war that they are fighting seems to have been a manipulative effort by elites within our government.

No, for me, patriotism is deeper than that. Much like someone who is truly spiritual will likely not wear their religion on their sleeve, or pass quick and easy judgement on others who believe differently, or use that religion to try and impose my personal viewpoints on others, I think true patriotism works much the same way. Patriotism is something that you feel, not something that you make a point of showing everyone, because everyone else is doing it. It is more than a feeling, though. It is like the love of a family member, and it feels like that both when you are younger, perhaps akin to what you might feel for a parent who takes care of you, through to adulthood, when it might feel almost like what you might feel towards one of your own children.

I am patriotic, and absolutely want what is best for my country. I believe that some things would clearly be better for the course that this country is on than the one that we, collectively, have chosen. For one, I believe that this nation should have listened to President Carter when he warned us, decades ago now, to make a strong effort towards developing energy independence and alternative energy sources to oil. I imagine how the nation's last few decades might have been different had we not still been addicted to oil, and it makes me sad that we as a country did not choose that path, and have instead fought numerous wars in a region where our name and credibility is increasingly compromised and vilified. It makes me sad that we have taken it upon ourselves to be the only major country that still elects so-called leaders who outright deny the reality of climate change and, moreover, who enact legislation to reflect this poor attitude. More than any other issue, we Americans have been the laughing stock when it comes to environmental issues for quite a few decades now - since at least the years of George H. W. Bush, and probably since the days of Reagan. It was not always like that, but the recent embrace by so many Americans to buck the trend of the world and go to such lengths to allow big corporations to pollute because it would allow a healthier economy, supposedly, is bordering on a tragedy.

Moreover, I disagree with the rise of racism, xenophobia, and sexism. I remember a few white men telling me, about eight years ago, that the country clearly no longer could be said to have problems with racism because we elected a black man to the highest office, and that clearly was wrong. It is an overly simplistic interpretation of reality. Now, we all have our prejudices, and certainly, I cannot exclude myself from this equation. Trump has made many Americans comfortable with their prejudices. Not only comfortable with them, but increasingly comfortable expressing them in hateful and divisive ways. But, much like with our other negative and divisive qualities, it is up to us to resist the temptation. Perhaps we know that eating this or that type of junk food would be immediately gratifying, but that should not give us license to systematically give in to that. Perhaps we know that making expensive and/or exotic purchases would be awesome, but we also know that this would not be a sound or reasonable decision. There are a lot of other examples that can be used, but basically, it comes down to this: we should know right from wrong. And giving in to our prejudices, let alone so doing time and time again, and allowing these prejudices to dictate how we "deal" with others, is and will continue to be extremely detrimental and divisive. Frankly, we really know better, and there have been plenty of people in my life who tell racist jokes or express xenophobic or sexist viewpoints in a hushed, secretive whisper, to kind of see if I am on board with it or not. There have been plenty of white people who take this approach with me (and surely with other whites) to see if they can get away with expressing racist and hateful viewpoints. The fact that they do so in such a secretive, almost timid manner is proof to me that they really do know better, but are making the poor choice of allowing their inner demons to get the better of them. When this happens on a national level, it is the opposite of what Lincoln hoped for this country, when he said that he wanted our better angels to effectively win out and make a better country.

It hardly makes America great again. It makes the country worse, and in so many ways.

Again, my version of patriotism conflicts with this bullying, crass, and very vocal version of patriotism. I think frank and informed discussion of real issues would be what is best for the country, not trying to intimidate others who do not think like we do to keep their mouths shut and hide in fear.

My patriotism for the United States is much different and, increasingly, it is disengaging from politics, which clearly is growing worse, not better, in the country. We used to have leaders who truly helped to make the country great. Why, this is the country with some amazing luminaries during the days of the Founding Fathers. We had George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Rush - and that was just in the very beginning! Since then, we had Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, the Suffragettes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Many of them were flawed human beings in their own way, but each of them also contributed greatly to what this country stands - or at least once stood - for.

Contrast that company with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton!

Now, that is probably unfair. After all, those are some of the most remarkable and inspiring individuals in our nation's history. Plus, we do have better leaders out there. Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders particularly come to mind. But too many Americans have allowed the political process to become a mockery, and a pale imitation of what it once was, and a shadow of what it could be. Too many Americans now seem to feel that their only patriotic act during an election year is to go out and vote (and some of them do not even do that), and then leave our elected officials be to wave a magic wand and fix the country. It does not work that way, we need an active democracy where an informed citizenry remains active and at least works to make the country better. This whole voter and citizen apathy thing is an experiment that has failed, time and time again. Yet, we keep trying it as a country, as if somehow, this time, with this or that candidate, it will work. Some people expected miracles with Obama. Now, some other people expect miracles with Trump. Many people will be disappointed on both sides.

Is it not the case that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing, over and over again, expecting different results each time?

So, my patriotism towards this country is towards what it could still be, if we get over ourselves and our prejudices (including our collective nationalistic prejudice of assuming we are better than everyone when, clearly, we are not).

However, I look at the country's relatively brief history, and see how much the United States has contributed to the world, and how tall it stood when it was at it's best, and I do feel a certain measure of pride. Beyond their political contributions, men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were brilliant even outside of their political contributions. We had some other incredibly talented and brilliant people, as well! We had some great writers and thinkers, such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott - and they were all from the same small village in Massachusetts! We had Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner. We can at least lay partial credit to Kahlil Gibran. Some of my favorite writers during the present age include (but is not limited to) Kurt Vonnegut, Daniel Quinn, Stephen King, and Jonathan Franzen, just to mention a few! And let us not forget that we are starting to really discover the mine of Native American thinkers and writers, who are helping us gain a valuable and unique perspective that is markedly different from our own traditional perspective! We benefited from the writings and thinking of Reinhold Niebuhr and Joseph Campbell. We contributed greatly in other arts, as well, including bringing jazz to the world and, arguably, rock 'n roll. There have been some unbelievably talented musicians that we unleashed to the world, as well. We had some amazing scientists and inventors and others who's feats continue to stand tall even today, including Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla (I realize that he is also from another country, but he emigrated to the United States, and it was here that he displayed his greatest genius), the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhardt, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, and Carl Sagan. It was here that the railways really took off on a major scale to change the world (admittedly, not necessarily for the better. Henry Ford perfected the automobile, and began the process of bringing cars to the masses. We invented television, and put a man on the moon! And more recently, we brought the modern internet into being.

Yes, all of that, and I probably am forgetting more people and things than I remembered. There are plenty of reasons why we can take pride in the United States, and in who and what we brought to the world. But we seem intent on making people forget those things with our collective arrogance, and our automatic, knee-jerk assumption that people should be looking to us for leadership on everything. We have embarrassed ourselves collectively with disgraceful actions, such as the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq and now, most recently, the election of an anti-democratic demagogue to the White House.

Trump has not even taken the oath of office yet at this point. Still, already, the bombshell that was his election victory and inevitable ascension to the highest office in the land is bringing out the worst in Americans. And much like Trump's tweets revealed much during this election (and some have already compared his tweets to helping him win this election like JFK's appearance helped him during the televised debates back in 1960.  It was a shallow reason for Americans to pick their president back then (even though JFK still seems like the better overall candidate then Nixon), and Trump's tweets are an even shallower reason for Americans to have made their choice this year. Unfortunately, things are already growing worse in this already incredibly polarized nation, and fittingly, this has been especially apparent on the internet. On Facebook, I have seen spiteful and even hateful posts from both supporters of Trump and Clinton. Some people have been flirting with the idea of having some states (particularly California) break away, and I imagine that we might see those kinds of posts and tweets grow more common. Before too long, those sentiments might just spread to become more common. How long before we see a pro-independence post from places like New York or New England? After all, Goldwater, the very conservative Republican candidate (at least for his time) during the 1964 campaign, once suggested that both places would be better off if the liberal northeast simply broke off and formed it's own union. Hell, who knows? Maybe that would really actually be for the best.

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